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being a parent and the MFA
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pivot


Nov 9, 2005, 8:06 PM

Post #1 of 16 (4003 views)
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being a parent and the MFA Can't Post

Hi,

I am considering going for a creative writing mfa, but for personal reasons I may be having children during the same time period. I will probably apply to iowa and maybe wash u and several others. I have read some of the postings on low residency programs, but I think I may need at least partial funding to do an mfa.

I am most interested in hearing from people who have gone through the mfa as parents or in the process of becoming parents, and what their experiences and reccomendations might be. I would also be interested in hearing from people who observed others in their class deal with such issues.

thanks!


cyclical



Nov 9, 2005, 8:29 PM

Post #2 of 16 (3999 views)
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In Reply To
but for personal reasons I may be having children

Well, let's certainly hope so!


HopperFu


Nov 10, 2005, 3:09 PM

Post #3 of 16 (3967 views)
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I have not gone through the MFA process, so I am not sure how helpful of an answer this will be, but I am applying this year. I have two daughters (3 1/2 and 1 1/2), and I can tell you flat out that it will harder for you then it will be for other students. That being said, you get a lot better at using the limited free time you have.
If I didn't have kids, I would probably be willing to look at programs that don't have funding, but I can't afford to do that with kids. My assumption is that an MFA program will be similar to having a full-time job (or even more time consuming) and that I will need full-time childcare. Childcare - good childcare - is very expensive.
I don't see any reason why you can't do an MFA with kids, while you are trying to have kids, or while you are in the process of having kids, but it is going to make things hard.
The one thing that will make it all easier, is if you have a supportive partner who believes in you and what you are trying to do.


texasgurl
Stacy Patton Anderson

e-mail user

Nov 10, 2005, 5:55 PM

Post #4 of 16 (3955 views)
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Re: [pivot] being a parent and the MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Like HopperFu, I have 2 kids and am applying to MFA programs this year. I agree with him that it will be challenging to balance work and family during the program, particularly when your MFA colleagues may include a number of the young, single and childless. But I would make a distinction between managing kids you already have and having a baby during the program.

Like you, I have considered whether or not I could have a child during the time I intend to study for my MFA (that is, get pregnant during the next 2 or 3 years). I'm about 97% against it. Being pregnant and having a newborn baby are incredibly taxing events in most women's lives. Wonderful, yes, but enormously time-consuming. A newborn baby is incredibly needy for the first 3 to six months, and in a two-year program, that's a great deal of time. Can you write while the baby cries in the other room? Can you type one-handed with the baby in your lap?

I am not trying to be negative--I just can't see how I would manage both a new child and intensive study without short-changing one or the other. And in that scenario, it's your studies that are likely to suffer. Maybe it depends on how you view the MFA, and what you hope to accomplish during that time, but for my money, one or the other is hard enough.


Stacy Patton Anderson
http://family-of-five.com

(This post was edited by texasgurl on Nov 10, 2005, 6:02 PM)


HopperFu


Nov 10, 2005, 8:13 PM

Post #5 of 16 (3947 views)
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Really good point, Texasgurl. There is a big difference between already having kids and, well, having kids.
I guess one way to look at it is, if you were working a real job that required 40+ hours a week of concentration, would you also choose this as the time to have kids? I.e., are you willing to put your child(ren) into a daycare / nanny situation pretty quickly?
My kids were wonderful and about as easy as it gets, but I didn't get much any work done until last spring when I had a babysitter come twice a week for two hours. I had to leave the house to work, but I got some good stories done.
I don't want to discourage you, but it is a question of balance. Getting an MFA is going to be like working a very demanding job. I do think you can do it, but you are going to need child care.
Look, if this is the time in your life when you want / need to have kids, go for it. And if this is the time in your life when you also need / want to get your MFA, go for it as well. But it is not going to make things easier. There will - as Texasgurl points out very clearly - be a question of balance. There will be times when you do feel guilty for not giving your kid enough attention, and their will be times when you feel guilty for not giving schoolwork enough attention.
Again though, plenty of women manage to do harder things while they are pregnant or have newborn children than getting an MFA.


jebgang
Jenn Brewer
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Nov 11, 2005, 3:34 PM

Post #6 of 16 (3919 views)
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Re: [HopperFu] being a parent and the MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Consider, also, that even if you can manage to have childcare from the get go, you will feel like you've been run over by a steamroller for about six weeks. No joke. There is a serious lifting of clouds at six weeks and another at three months. During that first month and a half, you will have trouble remembering your name, much less being creative or absorbing any information. Not saying you shouldn't do it. Just be prepared for that. Childbirth and newborn care take the meaning of the word "exhausted" to a whole new level!


For me, writing something down is the only road out. -- Anne Tyler

(This post was edited by jebgang on Nov 11, 2005, 3:43 PM)


HopperFu


Nov 11, 2005, 3:38 PM

Post #7 of 16 (3918 views)
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Re: [jebgang] being a parent and the MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Seven months was the magic number for us. That's when both of our kids actually slept through the night (7 p.m. to 5:30 or 6).


Kelsie


Nov 11, 2005, 4:24 PM

Post #8 of 16 (3908 views)
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Re: [HopperFu] being a parent and the MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Just chiming in from Oregon...

When I got to the MFA program, the professors said, at orientation, that for those of us who had spouses or partners or significant others (not even children...), we should plan on devoting about 10 percent of our waking time to them and the other 90 percent to writing.

I know that most of my colleagues here who have significant others often complain that they are always distracted and therefore, have not had the output they were expecting.

There is a woman here who is divorced and has FOUR children (one of them autistic). She is a fiction writer, and let me tell ya'....I don't know how she does it. I've babysat for her on occasion. She struggles, but that goes without saying.


I can't imagine having a baby while IN an MFA program. Between the teaching and the writing and the classes, there's barely enough time for me to rub my cat's belly.

Hope this helps...I mainly just wanted to point out what you might be told by your professors about time management.


toni-b


Nov 12, 2005, 4:49 PM

Post #9 of 16 (3878 views)
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Re: [pivot] being a parent and the MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

I think it's a question of age and perspective, but the notion that an MFA is as hard as a full time job is funny to me. I'm in an MFA program after ten years at a demanding job, and my MFA is like a (poorly) paid vacation. I feel like I have tons of time. I'm also at an age, where, if I had the right partner, I would definitely think about having kids now. It would take away some of the social experience, but kids would be a different, wonderful experience.

I already did one tour of duty in graduate school, and many of my female classmates had kids in their last year. Not the first year; it's an adjustment period. But assuming you teach part-time on assistantship while in your MFA program, and slave somewhere full-time after it, you can do the math yourself.

The one huge concern is insurance. I'm not sure what your financial situation is, or if you have a partner with private insurance that could cover you and the child. Student insurance tends to be terrible. On the other hand, my large state university does offer a daycare/child care program. (They might also cover kids with health insurance while letting moms hang out to dry, not sure on that.)


wiswriter
Bob S.
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Nov 18, 2005, 5:47 PM

Post #10 of 16 (3838 views)
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The MFA can be like a vacation or it can be like a really bad-paying 60-hour-a-week job. It depends on the program and the aid package. For someone having children while doing the MFA, it's probably important to concentrate on programs where the aid is decent and the teaching load isn't heavy, unless you don't mind borrowing to make ends meet while you're there. Also you might want to talk to current students and find out something about the culture of the programs you're considering. Some places might be more accommodating and flexible than others when it comes to deadlines and requirements and time limits.


arabtexaschica


Jan 5, 2006, 2:23 PM

Post #11 of 16 (3771 views)
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Re: [pivot] being a parent and the MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi--
I went to grad school when my child was 20 months old (I'm a single mom). Here are important things to keep in mind:

1. Are classes at the program you will be attending offered during the day or at night? If all classes are at night and you spend the day TA-ing, it'll be damn near impossible to do. If you will be on fellowship, night classes would be perfect-- you could leave baby with sitter or other parent and spend the day with baby/writing.

2. Speaking of sitters, will you have one? Because I estimate you need 6 hours daily of child-free time as a grad student.

Going to grad school and having a child is an awesome idea, if you go to the right school. Grad school isn't like a job: you can call in sick without losing pay and even take semesters off. And you get to spend more time with your kids than you would if you were working full-time. But, I believe this all depends on you and your personality. If you value academia and are driven and ambitious, going to grad school and raising kids go well together.


brandylien


Feb 9, 2006, 7:36 PM

Post #12 of 16 (3704 views)
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i'm a mother of two (my daughter is 29 months old and my son is 15 months old), and i'm will be in the MFA program at UBC in the fall. i think my parents are coming from Pennsylvania to stay with us for a few months to help out, which is a big deal. a year ago, i wasn't even dreaming of quitting my job and doing this. but i think my kids are at a stage now where they are somewhat independent and frankly don't need me as much to pay attention to them! i think for any mother, the first year is the hardest, and there's no way i, and i'm only speaking for myself, would be able to handle any graduate program during the first year of a child's life. good luck with whatever you decide!


leftoverz
Aaron Murphy

Feb 16, 2006, 6:35 PM

Post #13 of 16 (3616 views)
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Re: [toni-b] being a parent and the MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm curious how many people do MFA programs after having done something else as a career. I'm debating applying this fall, which would mean I'll be in my mid-30s when I enroll. On the one hand, that still seems pretty young (to me anyway), but I'll be coming from a very demanding and high-pressure field, complete with spouse and child. I imagine myself being completely out of place. I'll be that "old guy" in class who always wants to make comments about his life "before coming back to school" -- that guy always used to annoy me, and now he IS me.

An MFA is something I regret not doing way back when. Having foregone it to pursue a "grown up" career, I'm at a point of reevaluation and reinvention (how can I tell my kid to pursue his dreams when I've never pursued mine?). How many other people are out there in similar situations? Will I really be out of place?


sk1grrl


Feb 16, 2006, 7:03 PM

Post #14 of 16 (3612 views)
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Re: [leftoverz] being a parent and the MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

No, you're not alone.

I'm an almost thirty year old wife and mother of a ninteen month old, and I'm a couple years into a wonderful job after a million and one dead end, horrible jobs. I'm applying to MFA programs for Fall 2006 because I realized after having my daughter that I really needed to try to achieve my dreams NOW.

Ironically, I now have the kind of job satisfaction I never dreamed of having. When I was a kid, I thought I would making a living writing novels. When I realized you didn't just go down to the novel writing plant and fill out an application, I figured I'd never have a job I enjoyed. So now that I love my job, I'm going to leave it to be a student again! Crazy...


pongo
Buy this book!

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Feb 17, 2006, 11:35 AM

Post #15 of 16 (3583 views)
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Re: [leftoverz] being a parent and the MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Mid-thirties in an MFA program? That would have been about the average in mine, whose graduates (my graduating class) ranged from 23 to sixtyish (I never asked Mara her age, but she was retired from several earlier careers). I was mid-forties when I entered.

dmh


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toni-b


Feb 17, 2006, 12:01 PM

Post #16 of 16 (3574 views)
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Re: [leftoverz] being a parent and the MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

I just turned 35 (happy birthday to me), and I'm the oldest person in my regular (not low-residency) program. Most places will tell you that there's a huge range of ages of persons accepted historically, but you definitely want to ask questions about the ages of people actually in the program, what the social life is like, how many people are married, etc., particularly if you get accepted to more than one school and have a choice. If you can swing it financially, you also probably want to visit the program with your spouse to see if you feel welcomed as a couple.

Because these programs are about "building a community of writers," the social element can be really important: you feel left out if you don't attend the formal and informal events, and you miss important news and gossip. Obviously, going out regularly is hard to do with a baby, which is why I spoke of trade-offs in an earlier post.

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